01 Practicing with Ableton - Click Tracks and

Practicing with Ableton:
Click Tracks and Reference
Why practice our instruments with Ableton?
Using Ableton in our practice can help us become better musicians. It offers
— Click tracks that change meter and tempo along with our music
— Slowing down recordings for transcription or playing along
— Easy recording so we can learn by listening to ourselves
The Metronome
The metronome on/off toggle is the the blackand-white circles at the top right of the screen:
Press Play or spacebar to run.
Metronome Volume
In Session View, on the Master track there is a knob with headphone logo. (If you don’t see it,
click the “M” circle to the right of the master track)
Metronome Routing
In Session View, on the Master track, the “Cue Out” menu lets you choose which output channel
the metronome goes to.
Setting the Tempo
See the box that reads “80.00” above? Click it and type your tempo. You can also click and
drag it up or down. Hold down the COMMAND key to fine tune.
Tapping in the Tempo
Feel the tempo you want, and then click TAP 4 times in that tempo.
Simple Click Tracks
(No time signature changes, no tempo changes, no fixed duration.)
In Session View, you
can assign a tempo and
time signature to Scene
by adding it to the name
of the scene.
Rename the scene by
selecting a number
(under Master) and
typing COMMAND-R.
Give it a name (e.g. the
name of the song) and
add the tempo and time signature after in the format: 150bpm 4/4
To make it playable, there needs to be some kind of clip in that scene, so put an empty clip on a
midi track by double clicking where you want the clip to appear.
Make sure the metronome is on and trigger the Scene.
!!! Compound Time in Ableton
Ableton always treats the quarter note as the “beat” in “beats-per-minute”, even in compound
meters like 6/8. This is dumb. We have to work around it by converting our tempi: multiply by
80bpm 6/8 (in real music, where there are 80 dotted quarters in a minute)
in Ableton is 80*3/2 =
120bpm 6/8 (120 quarter notes in a minute)
(Another way to think about it: that’s 80 times the ratio of the dotted quarter to the quarter.)
If you’re using a dotted-sixteenth as the pulse (x/16), you’ll need to divide the converted tempo
by two.
Bespoke Click Tracks
For music with changing time signatures or tempi, it’s best to make our own.
Making our own clicker
From Categories > Instruments choose Impulse and drag it to an empty MIDI track (or the open
area that says “Drop Files and Devices Here”)
You can choose any sounds from Categories > Samples to be your click, but it’s hard to beat
the metronome sound in Ableton. Here’s how you find it:
In the Finder, go to Applications and find Ableton Live.
Control-click it and choose “Show Package Contents”
Contents > App-Resources > Misc > Metronome >
Drag each of the two Metronome audio files into the
pads of the Impulse:
We’ll want to use this instrument again someday, so let’s save it: click the “floppy disk” icon in
the top right of the Impulse and give it a name.
Marking Sections
It is supremely helpful to label our click tracks thoroughly. We mark out sections in Ableton with
In the Arrange window, click so the
orange cursor is on the downbeat of
the section.
Click the Set button to the right.
This creates a marker on the
timeline. Select it and change the
name (control click > Rename) to something useful.
Making our First Bar
Set the initial tempo and time signature.
In the Arrange view, select one bar on our Impuse track.
Control click the bar and choose “Insert MIDI Clip.” Double click it to open the clip below.
Add a MetronomeUp note on the downbeat by double clicking where it should go.
Add a Metronome note on each other beat. To change the volume of any one note, drag the
pink stick up below it up or down.
Name it by clicking again on the MIDI Clip in the timeline and pressing COMMAND-R. Give it
the name of the time signature.
Now you can drag out the edge of the Clip and it will repeat as many times as you need.
Alterately, you can duplicate clips by holding Option while clicking and dragging.
Changing the Time Signature
Control click on the Locator
bar and choose Insert Time
Signature Change.
The Tempo Graph
Click the arrow next to the Master track and make sure Mixer and Song
Tempo are selected below.
The numbers below set the bounds for the graph, so it’ll make it a little
easier for you to work if you set them to be the slowest and fastest that
you’ll need for this music.
The pink line to the left represents the tempo. If it’s a dashed line, we need to make an initial
node by going to bar 1 and clicking once right on the pink line on the downbeat.
Inserting a tempo change: the way of exactness
Click the orange cursor in the bar where the tempo change happens.
Set the new tempo on the top left of the screen.
Click Record and then Play, and then Stop.
Click the extra nodes on the right side of the recorded area to remove them.
Accelerando and ritardando
You can click anywhere on the pink line to make a node and then drag it up or down.
Hold down the Option key and click a sloping segment to bend it into a curve.
Delete a node by clicking on it.
Make a Mistake? Inserting and Deleting Time
Miss a bar? Made one too many? No need to redo all your following work.
Select how much time you need to create or cut anywhere in the Arrange window, and choose
from the Edit menu Duplicate Time or Delete Time.
Adding Cues
In the open area underneath your tracks, control click
and choose Insert Audio Track.
Make sure that Ext. In is chosen.
Arm the track by clicking the record button on its right.
Go to the place you want the cue, click the Global
Record button and Play. Record yourself speaking
the cue.
If you didn’t put it in the right place, you can drag it
where you need it. Drag the edges of the Clip to exclude what you don’t need.
!!! Not behaving the way you expect?
Probably this arrow is orange…
or this one is…
This means that Session View is overriding Arrangement view. Click them to get the
Arrangement to play exactly the way you see it.
When you’re practicing…
If you’re practicing with a click track, you’ll often want to focus on a few bars at a time. To do
this, just select those bars and press COMMAND-L. This will set the Loop Area to your
selection (the braces on the timeline) and turn looping on.
To turn Looping off, click on the
green loop toggle:
The Reference Track
Syncing a recording of a performance to your click track is a great practice tool.
Importing a Recording
Just find the audio file in the Finder and drag
it to the open area under your click track.
Double click the Audio Clip so that it opens
up in the Sample Editor at the bottom of the
Setting the Start Point
Your recording probably won’t begin exactly on the downbeat, so find that point in the file, click it
to place the orange cursor there, and then control click and choose Set 1.1.1 Here.
Listen to it and see if matches up with your beats. If the music is complex at all it probably
won’t, and you’ll need to push and pull it around manually to make it fit. Here’s how:
Control-click again at 1.1.1 and choose Warp from Here (Straight). This gives you a clean slate
to work with.
Set the Time Signature
Notice that in the Sample Editor the clip has its own timeline based on its own time signature
(see far left under Clip). This is unfortunate for our purposes, since we worked so hard on our
own timeline, but it makes a lot of sense in most of the ways you’ll use Ableton. To avoid
confusing the Sample Editor bars with the Global Timeline bars, I find it’s useful to change the
Clip time signature to the basic subdivision, like 1/4 or 1/8. We won’t be able to see where our
file lines up with our Global timeline in the Sample Editor4 but at least we will be able to easily
see when things are on or off the beat.
Since the performers in the recording won’t have played to your exact click tracks and may have
all kinds of imperfections in timing and tempo, we’ll need to push and pull the audio around to
make it fit our grid. Ableton is really good at this.
Creating Warp Markers
A Warp Marker basically lets you say: “take THIS part of the audio and put it HERE.”
Look for a strong impulse in the waveform - probably a beat. Double click on the
dark grey part of the timeline over it and a green Warp Marker will appear. Drag
that marker left or right to line it up with the grid, and it will compress and expand
the audio to fit.
!!! Note about Warp Modes
There’s no way around it: warping degrades sound
quality. Ableton has a number of different modes that
help you minimize this. Beats, Tones and Texture are
optimized for different kinds of sonic materials. Try
these first, using their options (Grain Size, etc.) to
Complex and Pro do a really good job when none of
the others are working (usually because you’re
stretching the sound farther than a little bit), but the
sound quality is worse than when the others are
working well.
Re-Pitch works more like tape: speed it up, and the
pitch goes higher. This can be useful but not here.
Warping Workflow
Select the first bar in the Arrangement window and press COMMAND-L to hear it loop.
Open the audio in the Sample Editor and watch it run.
Make and move Warp Markers until the beats of the music line up with your clicks. Look for
large landmarks to line up first — strong downbeats.
Select the next bar, loop it and repeat.
Sometimes it will be useful to loop longer segments.
Try finding and setting the first and last bar first. That will get everything close.
If you feel like you’re getting lost, you can wipe the slate clean ahead of you by clicking to a
position in the sample, control-click > Warp (your tempo) from here.
Hint: start at the end. Warp the last bar’s downbeat (in the audio) to
the last bar of your timeline. This will get everything close. Then
proceed through the Warping Workflow to fine tune each individual
When you’re practicing…
Slow it down.
Once your reference track is correctly warped, you can slow down the tempo and the track will
slow down with it. If you have tempo changes in your Master Song Tempo graph, you’ll want to
slide all your nodes at once: first select the region behind them.
Play along with the reference track
(or count, or conduct, or do “bad solfege”)
Muting the Reference Track
When we practice with a click and reference track, we’ll often want to hear just the click track
To mute a
track, click the green track number button.
Recording Yourself
Recording ourselves is a great way to develop faster as musicians. A little bit of distance from
our performance shows us all sorts of things we never noticed about our playing. Hearing
ourselves is the feedback that lets us learn — and this is hearing ourselves better.
Make a New Track
Create menu > Insert Audio Track
Set the Input
To show Inputs / Outputs in Arrange view, click the I-O button to
the right of the Master
Choose Ext. In to
record from a
Want to hear yourself
Auto. Want to hear
not recording?
hear yourself when
when you record? Choose
yourself even when you’re
Choose In. Want to not
you’re recording? Choose Off.
“1/2” means that it’s going to record a stereo track from inputs 1 and 2 from your system. If
you’re plugging a mic in, you’re probably just going to use 1 mono input, so you can choose that
from the drop down.
Arm the Track
To “arm” is to get a track ready for recording. Click the record button so that it’s red:
Don’t see the record button? Choose M below:
Now turn on Global Record at the top of the window:
Click on the bar you want to start with… and press Play (or spacebar).